A British judge handed Uber a victory on Monday, overturning a ban on the ride-hailing app in London.
Last year, Transport for London (TfL), the transit regulator in England’s capital, revoked Uber’s license to operate in the city. But a judge’s ruling has now granted the company a new 18-month permit to carry passengers in London, one of Uber’s biggest global markets and its largest by-far in Europe.
When TfL stripped Uber of its license last year, it was the second time the authority tried to prevent the ride-hailing service from operating in London. Back in 2017, it first declined to renew Uber’s license, citing a “pattern of failures” to ensure passenger safety.
That safety concern regarded a glitch in Uber’s system that TfL claimed let unauthorized drivers upload their photos to other driver accounts. As a result, the regulator alleged that unauthorized Uber drivers fraudulently picked up passengers in at least 14,000 trips.
But Judge Tan Ikram of the Westminster Magistrate Court stated Monday that he was not concerned that such a security breach is ongoing. In his ruling, Ikram wrote that he has “sufficient confidence” that Uber “no longer poses a risk to public safety.”
Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, celebrated the ruling. “This decision is a recognition of Uber’s commitment to safety and we will continue to work constructively with TfL,” he stated. “There is nothing more important than the safety of the people who use the Uber app as we work together to keep London moving.”
Indeed, even before the ruling, Uber made efforts to assuage public safety concerns. In April, it introduced a new system to verify the identities of its drivers, through a mix of facial recognition and human reviewers. And the TfL ban didn’t exactly stop Uber’s lucrative London market. The service was allowed to continue picking up passengers while it appealed the ban.
Despite this good news for Uber, the company continues to face woes, both in its native California and abroad. In San Francisco, Uber and rival Lyft continue to jointly appeal a regulation that would force the ride-hailing services to classify their drivers as full-time employees. Presently, the basis of Uber’s business model is ranking drivers as “independent contractors,” denying workers of benefits like health coverage or paid leave.
Meanwhile, back in the U.K., Uber is fighting a similar case at the Supreme Court level. In that dispute, drivers are demanding to be treated as employees, seeking protections like minimum wage and holiday pay. A verdict in that case should come later this year, but could prove a blow to Uber’s entire “gig economy” model.
Additionally, a legal verdict is unlikely to quell anti-Uber hostilities within London’s larger transportation market. The city’s traditional black cab industry has clashed with Uber almost since the app’s inception. Cab drivers have cried foul over unfair competition, and unequal regulations.
“Today’s decision is a disaster for London,” said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association. “Uber has demonstrated time and time again that it simply can’t be trusted to put the safety of Londoners, its drivers and other road users above profit. Sadly, it seems that Uber is too big to regulate effectively, but too big to fail.”